Young J.V. Sullivan, the son of an American Army officer and a Russian pianist, has grown up on Army posts around the world. His prosperous Aunt Nora has welcomed him to her home on Cape Cod each summer, allowing him to contrast the American way of life with his overseas experiences. Despite a gift for languages, Sullivan is unsure of his future. He persists in studying marketing. He completes an MBA program at NYU during his father's second tour of duty in Manhattan and wonders about his future. Aunt Nora discovers young Sullivan may also be a gifted artist. She challenges him to complete a dozen portraits for her. If he accepts the challenge she agrees to pay him $1,000,000. "Why?" he asks. "Paint the portraits and you'll know if an art career is for you. If so, I salute you. If not, I'll have a dozen fine paintings and you'll have a million dollars." He accepts the challenge.